Pharnavaz I of Iberia

Pharnavaz I of Iberia

Pharnavaz I ( _ka. ფარნავაზი, also spelled P'arnavaz, P'arnawaz, or Farnavaz) was the first king of Kartli, an ancient Georgian kingdom known as Iberia to the Classical sources, who is credited by the medieval Georgian written tradition with founding the kingship of Kartli and the Parnavaziani dynasty. He is not directly attested in non-Georgian sources and there is not definite contemporary indication that he was indeed the first of the Georgian kings. His story is saturated with legendary imagery and symbols, and it seems feasible that, as the memory of the historical facts faded, the real Parnavaz "accumulated a legendary façade" and emerged as the model pre-Christian monarch in the Georgian annals. [Rapp, p. 276.] Based on the medieval evidence, most scholars locate Parnavaz’s rule in the 3rd century BC: 302-237 BC according to Prince Vakhusht, 299-234 BC according to Cyril Toumanoff and 284-219 BC according to Pavle Ingoroqva. [Rapp, p. 274.]

Medieval texts and historical context

According to the c. 800 chronicle "The Life of Kings", Parnavaz had a distinguished genealogy, tracing back to Kartlos, the mythical ethnarch of Kartli. His paternal uncle, Samara, held the position of "mamasakhlisi" ("father of the house") of the Georgian tribes around Mtskheta. Parnavaz’s mother is claimed to have been an Iranian. It should be noted that the entire story of Parnavaz, although written by a Christian chronicler, abounds in ancient Iranian-like imagery and mystic allusions, a reflection of the archaeologically confirmed cultural and presumably political ties between Iran and Kartli of that time. The name "Parnavaz" is also an illustrative example with its root "par"- being based upon the Persian "farnah", the divine radiance believed by the ancient Iranians to mark a legitimate dynast (cf. "khvarenah"). [Rapp, pp. 275-276.] The dynastic tag Parnavaziani ("of/from/named for Parnavaz") is also preserved in the early Armenian histories as P'arnawazean ("Faustus" 5.15; fifth century) and P'arazean ("Primary History of Armenia" 14; probably the early fifth century), an acknowledgment that a king named Parnavaz was understood to have been the founder of a Georgian dynasty. [Rapp, p. 276.]

Perhaps the most artistically rounded section of the Georgian annals, the narrative follows Parnavaz’s life from birth to burial. [Rayfield, p. 60.] The little Parnavaz’s family is destroyed, and his heritage is usurped by Azon installed by Alexander the Great during his mythic campaign in Kartli. He is brought up fatherless, but a magic dream, in which he anoints himself with the essence of the Sun, heralds the peripeteia. He is persuaded by this vision to "devote [himself] to noble deeds". He then sets off and goes hunting. In a pursuit of a deer, he encounters a mass of treasure stored in a hidden cave. [Rayfield, p. 61; Rapp, p. 276.] Parnavaz retrieves the treasure and exploits it to mount a loyal army against the tyrannical Azon. He is aided by Kuji, the lord of Egrisi (the Colchis of Classical writers – Kuji is unattested elsewhere), who eventually marries Parnavaz's sister. The rebels are also joined by 1,000 soldiers from Azon's camp; they are anachronistically referred to by the author as Romans, and claimed to have been entitled by the victorious Parnavaz as "aznauri" (i.e., nobles) after Azon (this etymology is false, however). [Rapp, p. 276.]

In the ensuing battle, Azon is defeated and killed, and Parnavaz becomes the king of Kartli at the age of twenty-seven. He is reported to have acknowledged the suzerainty of the Seleucids, the Hellenistic successors of Alexander in the Middle East, who are afforded by the Georgian chronicles the generic name of Antiochus. [Rapp, p. 276.] Parnavaz is also said to have patterned his administration upon an "Iranian" model, [Rapp, p. 275.] and have introduced a military-administrative organization based on a network of regional governors or "eristavi". [Rapp, p. 277; Suny, p. 12.] While Georgian and Classical evidence makes the contemporaneous Kartlian links with the Seleucids plausible (Toumanoff has even implied that the kings of Kartli might have aided the Seleucids in holding the resurgent Orontids of Armenia in check [Toumanoff, p. 185.] ), Parnavaz's alleged reform of the eristavi fiefdoms is most likely a back-projection of the medieval pattern of subdivision to the remote past. [Rapp, p. 277.]

Parnavaz is then reported to have embarked on social and cultural projects; he supervises two building projects: the raising of the idol Armazi – reputedly named after him – on a mountain ledge and the construction of a similarly-named fortress. [Rapp, p. 277.] He is also alleged to have invented (or reformed) the Georgian alphabet, which was actually devised after the adoption of Christianity (c. 337 AD), but the existence of a peculiar local form of Aramaic in pre-Christian Georgia has been archaeologically documented. [Lang, David Marshall. "Iran, Armenia and Georgia". In: Yar-Shater, p. 515.]

The chronicles report Parnavaz's lengthy reign of sixty-five years. [Rapp, p. 276.] Upon his death, he was buried in front of the idol Armazi and worshipped. His son, Saurmag, became a successor to the throne. [Rapp, p. 280.]

Parnavaz and Arrian's Pharasmanes

Several modern scholars have been tempted to make identification between the Parnavaz of the medieval Georgian tradition and the Pharasmanes of the Greco-Roman historian Arrian, a 2nd century AD author of "Anabasis Alexandri". Arrian recounts that "Pharasmanes (Фαρασμάυης), king of the Chorasmians", visited Alexander with 15,000 horseman, and pledged his support should Alexander desire to campaign to the Euxine lands and subdue Colchians, whom Pharasmanes names as his neighbors. Apart from the similarity of the names of Pharasmanes and Parnavaz (both names are apparently based on the same root, the Iranian "farnah"), it is interesting to note that the king of Chorasmia in Central Asia reports Colchis (today’s western Georgia, i.e., the western neighbor of ancient Kartli/Iberia) to be a neighboring country. [Rapp, p. 279.] Some Georgian scholars have suggested that the Greek copyists of Arrian might have confused Chorasmia with Cholarzene (Chorzene), a Classical rendering of the southwest Georgian marchlands (the medieval Tao-Klarjeti), which indeed bordered with Colchis and Pontus. [Rapp, p. 280.] [Giorgi L. Kavtaradze. [ "The Interrelationship between the Transcaucasian and Anatolian Populations by the Data of the Greek and Latin Literary Sources".] The Thracian World at the Crossroads of Civilisations. Reports and Summaries. The 7th International Congress of Thracology. P. Roman (ed.). Bucharest: the Romanian Institute of Thracology, 1996.]



*Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), "Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts". Peeters Bvba ISBN 90-429-1318-5.
*Rayfield, Donald (2000), "". Routledge, ISBN 0-7007-1163-5.
*Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), "The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd edition". Indiana University Press, ISBN 0253209153.
*Toumanoff, Cyril (1963), "Studies in Christian Caucasian History". Georgetown University Press.
*Yar-Shater, Ehsan (ed., 1983), "The Cambridge History of Iran". Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521246938.

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